Autograph collecting is quite popular among collectors these days. And the activity is so common that it’s even been depicted on cards themselves through the years. That’s right, start back in the 1970s and you can find plenty of cards picturing players signing autographs. The topic’s even been covered before online.
Here’s the thing, though. Baseball card photography has gotten increasingly more innovative over the years. Topps, Fleer, and Donruss did their part in the 1980s and Upper Deck took things to another level. Since their inception, photography has gotten increasingly more unique.
But it wasn’t always that way. In early years, many baseball cards didn’t even utilize real photography. A great many were drawings or lithographic depictions of players. Even when cards did start utilizing real photography, creativity was somewhat muted. Many cards were simple portrait or action shots of players hitting, throwing, or fielding.
Other cards of athletes signing autographs in the pre-war era probably exist but it wasn’t something I can recall seeing — a real athlete offering their signatures to fans. But as I fumbled through the cards of a recent purchase, I was surprised to see a star women’s tennis player pictured signing for fans. The image struck me as somewhat of a unique one.
About the Set
The card is from the somewhat obscure Deutscher Sport set — one of the numerous, multi-sport German sets of the 1930s. Cards are printed with full color, glossy fronts with white borders and matte black and white backs. They measure 2″ wide by 2 7/16″ tall and both horizontal and vertical images are used. These square-like cards mimicked the rough shape of many of the 1930s American gum cards but these measured smaller and were thinner. Like many international tobacco cards from the 1930s, these are often found in excellent condition.
Collectors seem to vary on its exact year of issuance, though that appears to be sometime between 1934 and 1936. Similar to many American Tobacco Company sets, the cards are found with numerous advertising backs. The German tobacco card was issued for at least four popular different cigarette brands, including Jasmatzi, Josetti, Bulgaria, and Salem. While not well known in the U.S., they were quite popular overseas and all of those brands distributed other popular German tobacco cards.
The set was a fairly large one, consisting of a total of 286 cards. As mentioned, it was a multi-sport release covering hockey, golf, boxing, tennis, soccer, and much more. The sport most represented in it, however, was track and field. The set focused quite a bit on athletes participating in the Olympic Games and that subset makes up the largest group.
The set is often ignored because it is devoid of major stars for the most part. Boxing Hall of Famer Max Schmeling is found in it, but even the major stars presented are mostly in minor sports that are less collected. The hockey and golf cards are popular but specific athletes are not named on them. And given the fact that the set is nearly 90 years old, many of the names, like Horn, have been long since forgotten.
Sign Here, Please
The tobacco card in question here pictures a female tennis player named Marie-Louise Horn. Horn was a somewhat popular tennis player in the 1930s and a pretty good one at that. Few collectors have probably heard of her today but she excelled in both singles and doubles play.
She never won a major championship but went deep into several big time tournaments, including Wimbledon and the French Open. As a doubles player, she reached the finals of the French Open in 1937. Horn was ranked as high as No. 8 in the world during her career as a quality player and while most collectors are not aware of her, she was obviously quite good. Her signing autographs for fans is not terribly surprising — but that it was captured on a card is.
Horn is the player, but what about the card?
The card features a color picture of Horn signing autographs for a group of young fans. If there was any ambiguity about what she is doing in the picture, the back clears it up.
Unfortunately the text on the back is written in German. On top of that, it uses a weird font style known as fraktur. While uncommon here in the U.S., the font was popular in other German issues, including the more well-known 1930s Sanella and Astra Margarine multi-sport sets. The distinguishing characteristic of the font is that is a fancy type of script and it’s often difficult to read.
Still, once you make out the actual text, the back is roughly translated to the following:
“Rush to the Celebrities. Marie-Louise Horn has to give autographs.”
The rest of the back is an advertisement for the cards and the specific cigarette brand. This particular card back shown here is for Josetti cigarettes but a Horn card would exist for the other tobacco brands, too. Backs of the cards also include the Deutscher Sport name at the top as well as a card number. Horn’s particular card is No. 112 in the set.
It’s just a very cool card with an image you don’t see often in the pre-war era — a real live athlete signing autographs for fans.
Rarity and Pricing
If you’re looking for Horn in general, you won’t find her on many cards. She is also in the 1930s Garbaty Cigarettes set, a hodgepodge of mostly female athletes and actresses. But that card is easier to find than this one.
The Deutscher Sport cards are not terribly common — even on sites like eBay. You will usually find some listings there but Horn’s card is often not among those listed. The Salem cards appear to be the toughest of the four but there are not typically premiums offered for any of them simply because few collectors can tell which cards are rarer and which are easier to locate. All of the cards are typically treated as equals, even if that isn’t necessarily true.
The good news is that if one is found, it is generally an inexpensive card. In good condition in the open market, you can typically find it in the $5-$10 range.